The JOI of the N1.

 Education, Japanese Language  Comments Off on The JOI of the N1.
Sep 012014

I just registered for the JLPT N1 again in December. This time I’m really serious about it. As in, I’m pulling out all of the test prep stops! Or at least I’m not going to go get a cert in the middle of studying for it, and sabotage my efforts.

I signed up for classes on JOI again. I like their system. You buy some tickets (the more, the cheaper, and the longer they last), and use them on classes whenever you can take them. I generally buy them in yen, because they’re slightly cheaper. (And since the yen is plunging, it’s a good deal.) They have classes aimed right at N1 level people like me (or who aspire to pass it, anyway!), and they also have special courses in vocab, grammar, conversation, and test strategies. It’s all really helpful.

And I like it more than a MOOC. Maybe I’m a little old-fashioned, but I like real human interaction in my learning, especially when it’s something like Japanese, which requires some immediate feedback.

My other strategy for the test is something I’m already working on, and that’s working on vocabulary. I have my big book of 2000 N1 level words I should know (meh, not really, but I’m going to!), and a few other books, like one on 慣用語 (idioms, I guess?) and a Kanzen Master N1 book on 漢字.

I’ve also ditched Anki for now. Farming vocab, doing data entry and all that is too much of a pain. Instead, I got some Campus vocabulary notebooks over at JBOX, and I’ve been rapidly filling them up. This is where the 0.3mm Kuru Toga shines– at filling in the small boxes! Writing vs typing, which is faster? Neither, really, but this is working for me. It’s a nice change of pace.

The notebook has 3 columns– Foreign Word, Pronunciation, and Japanese. I put the word I want to know (kanji or hiragana, if there’s no kanji for it commonly used) in the Foreign Word column, the pronunciation in hiragana in the Pronunciation column, and either English or Japanese definitions in the Japanese column. Whatever helps me remember best.

It’s nice, because I can just grab a notebook, half-open it so that only the Foreign Word column shows, and scan down it to check my understanding and pronunciation.

I use the Page column to put a horizontal mark next to words I have trouble with. If a word has a lot of marks, it gets more attention.

It’s really the same thing as Anki, I just find it faster for me to review– no pressing buttons, or guessing whether it’s a 2 or a 3, or dealing with percentages. I keep staring at words until I remember them. Also, I keep separate notebooks, one for the N1 book, one for the 漢字 book (because a lot of it is verbs), and one for the 慣用語 book. And I have a few others, too, and a stack of blank books.

Reading-wise, I’m reading the editorials on Shasetsu Hikaku-kun whenever I can. I’m not a fan of reading right-wing Japanese editorials, but the vocab is useful. So is the reading practice! When it’s N1 time, there’s just NO time to do the reading, so I want to smash it to bits.

Listening is the only area where I don’t have a perfect countermeasure yet. I’ll probably go with my old Drill and Drill book.

Here’s hoping I can finally kill that N1 with fire!

N1, Take Three

 Japanese Language, Travel  Comments Off on N1, Take Three
Dec 012013

My hotel room is kind of creepy. When I woke up this morning, it was 8 a.m. already, but my room was as dark as midnight, even with all of the curtains open. It feels like I’m in one of those rooms they use for experiments to confuse your sense of time. It’s really hard to know what time it is without looking at a clock.

I did some studying before heading out to Georgetown, and settled any anxiety I had by walking vigorously. A nice workout is a great way to relieve stress.

Today’s N1 was hard. Like last year, I think I simply need more vocabulary, but I feel like I nailed the listening portion. (I may be completely wrong.)

My N1 assault plan was the same as it was the other two times. I do most of the reading section first, because it takes me longer to do it, then go back and do grammar. I do it this way mainly because I don’t want anything that may go wrong in grammar to throw me off for the reading portion. Also, I do it because I want to make absolutely sure I get all of the reading questions done, because they count more than the grammar questions. (Per question, anyway.)

It went okay. I’m not sure if I passed or not. If I did, it’s probably by just a bit. If I didn’t, it’s probably by just a bit. I’m hoping that I pass, because I really don’t want to take this exam anymore, to be honest. It eats up a lot of time and money to prepare for it, and while it’s great to have the certification, it means that I can read and write at about a 12th grade level in Japanese. Not bad, but not “native level.” But still, not bad.

A lot of people I know who have already passed it say that it’s like finally getting in the door on learning Japanese. I suppose I’ll find out when that happens.

I’ve also been thinking about my approach to learning the language as well. Rather than doing lots of grammar drills, I’m going to focus on writing and reading more. Reading-wise, I’m going to focus more on newspapers, literature, and essays, and less on light novels and manga. I enjoy reading light novels, because they’re generally easy to read and light on thinking, but weightier literature, depressing though it may be, is really good at getting deeper into the language.

Writing daily will help a lot, too. I write some in Japanese, but I should write more. (I’m not changing the language of this blog, however tempting it may be.)

After the exam was over, I headed to Five Guys again to get a burger, then went back to the paper shop to get more paper for my sister, just like last year.

I thought about using Uber, but decided against it. I prefer to walk.

Speaking of which, according to Google, I walked 27 miles in November. How did they know? It’s interesting, but also kind of creepy. Welcome to the future, I guess.

I got back, then relaxed in my room. Long day, and I’m a little burned out. I’ll head home first thing tomorrow.

Off to DC

 Japanese Language, Travel  Comments Off on Off to DC
Nov 302013

I headed to DC today. The roads were a mess, because it’s the Thanksgiving weekend.

Actually, a mess is understating it. It was most unpleasant. But I got there.

I’m staying at the same hotel I did last time. It’s a nice hotel, if a little bit pricey, but it’s close enough to Georgetown for me.

I studied some, and I’ll study some more, then go to bed. Then I’ll get up early, study a little more, then head to Georgetown for the test.

Thanksgiving, Black Friday, N1 Coming

 Food, Japanese Language, Music, Technology  Comments Off on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, N1 Coming
Nov 292013

Thanksgiving was nice. We had our usual fried chicken, because turkey is boring, and takes too long to make. I made some killer fried chicken this year.

We did NOT go to any stores. It’s Thanksgiving– it’s not a day to shop. That’s what Friday is for.


I’m also looking out for good deals. Ever since the Propellerhead User Forum got shut down, I’ve been relying on Rekkerd’s Deals page a lot for info as to what’s going to be on sale this weekend and beyond.

The coolest thing I found was Native Instruments‘ massive software sale. Full versions of some of their software is half-off, everything except Komplete.

But it’s not what you think.

If you get a cross-grade from the full version of an NI product, you can get a big discount on Komplete, and Komplete Ultimate. The way it worked for me was that I bought Kontakt for half off ($199), then got the Komplete Ultimate cross-grade for only $374. Considering it retails for $1099, and usually goes for around $999, that’s a great deal.

I’m looking forward to playing with that. A lot.

I also scored a great deal on a new dryer. My dryer has been making scary noises and giving off weird smells, so rather than have the house burn down, I bought a cheap dryer. Really, all I need in a dryer is a low setting and a timer.

So long as it fits, dries my clothes, and doesn’t burn the house down, I’m happy.

N1 Coming

Tomorrow I leave for Washington to take the JLPT N1 again. I’m studying as much as I can.

Study-wise, I put a couple of N1 grammar books into Anki. It’s not enough, but it’s all I had time to do given the time I had. Studying for the A+ (and getting it) took up a lot of time.

Oct 212013

Man, that was nerve-wracking.

Part two of the A+ exam was trickier than I thought it would be. I know a lot of this stuff just because I’ve been messing around with computers all my life. I’ve built every computer I’ve used for the last 20 years. (Except for laptops.)

But if you ask me about cables, and numbers, and standards, my eyes (until now) would glaze over.

Now I know which version of Windows XP you really need. Or Vista. Or 7. (Yeah, that part was kind of weird, if you ask me.)

I also have a bunch of handy new skills in basic network troubleshooting, and dealing with Windows’ general random bugginess.

Finally, I have a new way of approaching problems that’s really useful.

I highly recommend getting as many A+ books as you can, and dumping them into Anki, then dump the questions into Anki, and review the bejeezus out of them.

Now on to N1 prep, and Career Forum prep.

A+ Part One: Pass!

 Education, Japanese Language, Technology  Comments Off on A+ Part One: Pass!
Oct 112013

So far, so good. I passed the first A+ test. It was harder than I thought it would be. I’m glad I had 3 different prep books to drill questions out of. I must have taken about 10 or so practice tests. I nailed this one.

Now my sister and nephew are coming tonight for the weekend, so I need to get the house ready. And I’ll be taking part two of the A+ on the 21st.

And of course there’s still the N1 looming over me. I’m not sure what to do about that. Panic? Nah. I don’t have time for that.

Anki Assault / Piano Practice

 Education, Japanese Language, Music, Technology  Comments Off on Anki Assault / Piano Practice
Sep 102013

In order to get ready for both the N1 and the A+ exams, I’m going all out on Anki for the next few weeks. I’ve just finished setting up a bunch of workbook practice sheets for Anki, thanks to e.Typist. It lets me OCR stuff and get it into Anki relatively painlessly.

For A+ material, if the book I bought is in PDF format, it’s easy to just copy/paste the text into Anki. But if it’s a Kindle book, then I have to use something like Greenshot, which take a photo of the page, OCRs it, and adds it to the clipboard. Then I just have to paste it into Anki.

Really, it would be a lot easier if these publishers just gave us text files. I paid for the book. It’s not like I’m going to give away the contents. I just want to turn it into flashcards I can use.

Also, I finally upgraded to Anki 2.0. I’ve been putting that off forever, but it’s finally time to bite the bullet. The transition took a couple of days to get ironed out completely, but now I don’t even notice the differences. The differences are there, and the workflow is pretty different, but things I used to complain about don’t seem like such a big deal to me anymore. As long as it’s fast, that’s all I care about.

Oh, Piano Class started tonight. That was a lot of fun. The Piano Lit class afterwards was interesting, too. I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to piano music. My background is in marching bands, concert bands, and jazz bands. So I don’t know much about classical piano music. But it’s interesting.

Music School

 Education, Music, Technology, Travel  Comments Off on Music School
Sep 032013

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is starting something new this fall, a Community Music School for people like me who live nearby and want to polish our musical skills in a relaxed setting. It sounds really interesting to me, because as I’ve said before, I need to work on my music composition skills. I also need to work on my piano/keyboarding skills, because that’s the fastest way to enter music into my DAW of choice, Reason.

I spoke with the teachers at an event on Sunday, August 25th, and they both seemed like really nice people who were not only passionate about what they do, but highly experienced. So signing up was a no-brainer for me.

Composition starts this Saturday, Group Piano starts next Tuesday. I’m looking forward to it.

Also, I’m starting to go into full gear mode for the N1, which is coming up in less than three months. (OMG!) I’m also looking at getting my A+ certification, because it’s an easy way to show people I know what I’m doing when it comes to computers. I may get Network+ and Security+ later on, but for now A+ will be plenty.

The only thing I’m worried about is cramming for A+ will mess up my N1 prep. But I want to have the A+ certification before I go to Boston again. (Yeah, I’m going again.)

This fall is going to be crazy.

Progress Report

 Art, Japanese Language, Music, News, Photography, Technology  Comments Off on Progress Report
Jul 252013

So I start a lot of projects on this blog, and some get finished, some don’t. I use David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” approach to constantly examine what I want to do vs. what I can do. GTD is a lifesaver in that regard. It helps keep me focused when sometimes it feels like I’m being torn apart by ducks.

So here are some short updates on projects I’ve been wanting to work on/finish.

The Grammar Songs

I discovered that in order to make it work, I need to improve both my Japanese and my music production skills. I studied music from 4th grade all the way through college, so I know a lot about performing music, but I don’t know as much as I should about composing and producing it, which are two entirely different skill sets.

I’ve been using Coursera to work on the production side, and now I need to work more on the composition side. And when it comes to writing lyrics, that’s the result of daily writing exercises.

My Japanese is pretty good, but it’s not quite at that level yet, so I’m working on it. Same goes for melodies. I’m looking for a way to get more music theory under my belt.

Japanese Studies

Those are going pretty well. JOI makes it easy to load up on classes for grammar, conversation, and vocabulary when I need to, and they meet my level, which is a godsend. Being an advanced student in a room full of beginners can be helpful sometimes, but it’s hard to make progress that way. So I’m glad JOI has classes that meet my needs. That’s going well so far.

Also, because of work, I work with Japanese people on a pretty regular basis. The only downside is that since we’re in the US, we mostly speak English and follow US business customs. Not all the time, but a lot of it. Those times when I need to slip into Japanese Mode it comes in really handy.

3D and 2D Art

Well… that had to get put on the “I’ll do it after the JLPT” pile. There’s just too much going on right now, and too many projects require my attention, so I find it’s best to whittle it down to what I can handle. I still want to get into it, but I need to find the right time/place to do it.

I sketch whenever I can. I’m not very good at it, but it’s relaxing, and it’s fun. It also helps me with my photography, and my eye for how I want to compose photos.

Where ARE the Photos?

That’s another thing that’s being put on the shelf for now. I have a giant pile of photos to edit, and just no time to do it. Editing requires big chunks of time for me, and unless I’m getting paid to do it, I just do it when I can. I’m going through the older stuff and gradually adding it, though. I don’t know of a good way to bump old posts up to the top of the site just because they have new material. Maybe I’ll create a new tag?


Well, ever since my class in Raleigh ended, I’ve been going to my usual calligraphy classes. Before the classes in Raleigh ended, though, I spent some time studying Edo-moji, and that was a lot of fun. Now I’m trying to decide what to do next in calligraphy/shodo.

Other Site Stuff

I recently moved the site over to Suffusion, and I like it as far as CMS/frameworks go. I can’t really call it a template, because it’s more like a framework you have to set up and tweak yourself to get it to really sing. My current design is a little Spartan, but I’m from the Jakob Nielsen school of web design. It needs to be easy to read, and accessible first above everything.

Headed to Asheville

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May 242013

I’m headed off to Asheville for the next few days to help my folks out around the house a bit.

The online classes at JOI are going pretty well so far. I like the structure, and the pricing is good. The teachers are doing a great job, and I’m learning a bunch. (Like how much I don’t know!)

If you’re looking for a way to work on your Japanese, and there isn’t a language school nearby, I’d recommend giving them a try. It’s only $9 to try it out.

Grabbing the N1 Bull by the Horns

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May 072013

Well, it’s May, and that means it’s time to start getting ready for the N1 again. This time, I’m going to get more serious about it than last time, because I have some pockets of free time here and there to work on it.

My calligraphy class, which was taught in Japanese, is now over for good, so I have one less way to speak/learn. I had a lot of fun there, even though it was a one-hour drive each way for a one-hour class (well, it usually ran a bit over, but I really enjoyed it!)

That class, plus my twice-weekly business Japanese sessions have helped me keep my conversational skills going, but it’s hard for me to keep my grammar and vocabulary knowledge highly polished without doing some sort of language classes that focus on it.

Going over some of my notes from Yamasa really shows how much rust can build up in unseen areas. I notice that there are some grammar phrases I should be using, but I just never use in daily conversation, so I need to focus on those a bit more.

So this week, I’m going to try out the Japanese Online Institute. It’s an online speech + chat + whiteboard-based way to learn Japanese in either small groups or privately. The first 3 lessons are only $9, so I’m game to try. After that, group lessons range in price from 500 yen (if you buy 180 lessons) to 900 yen (if you buy 5). The dollar/yen pricing is a bit off, probably due to the plummeting yen.

If I like the classes, then I’ll probably pony up a decent chunk of cash to get some lessons at a discount. I want pummel the N1 this year, so I don’t have to mess with it anymore.

They have a nice variety of classes, so it looks promising.

Another December, Another Try at the N1. (Day Two.)

 Japanese Language, Travel  Comments Off on Another December, Another Try at the N1. (Day Two.)
Dec 022012

I got up early, ate breakfast, tried to study, failed at that, and then just made sure my stomach was in good shape.

I decided to walk to the test site, even though my ankle has been bugging me. It was good to walk off any stress, but it made my ankle hurt a bit, and I wound up sweating like a pig. I forgot that I was wearing cotton, and layers of it. It was cold when I left the hotel, but by the time I got to Georgetown’s campus, I had turned into Sweaty Guy.

I had neglected to take my own repeated advice to wear some wicking layers. Doh.

I got to the ICC on the Georgetown Campus with plenty of time to spare, and took a few minutes to cool down and get comfortable. To me, the most important thing in one of these tests is to be comfortable, with no outside distractions, like being too hot or too cold. So I usually come to these kinds of tests with a bag full of stuff, just in case.

The N1 itself was about as I expected. I need to work on my vocabulary some more. The listening section was surprisingly difficult. Considering how much Japanese I listen to on a daily basis, I was often left with no other choice but to guess. That was frustrating.

I listen to the news in Japanese every day, watch lots of variety shows, listen to podcasts, etc., and I can follow that stuff just fine. But the N1? Forget it. I had a heck of a time following those speakers for some reason. Maybe I was tired, I don’t know. But it’s frustrating nonetheless.

I suppose for next time, I’ll focus on specific N1 listening prep, but I hate having to do that. I feel like it sabotages my ability to deal with the language on a normal basis, because the N1 feels very artificial. Ugh.

I think I did pretty well on the reading section, but I’ll probably have to take it again anyway. Grammar wasn’t too hard, but there were some words I have never seen before.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t pass, so I’ll need to figure out where my deficiencies are so I can get closer to passing next time. I don’t sit down and study Japanese 24/7, because I have work to do. Instead, I try to fit it in where I can. I’ll have to think about this some more.

Walking Around Georgetown

After the test was over, I headed back to the hotel. I was going to flag down a cab, but as I walked back, I just couldn’t seem to catch one. That was weird for a big city like DC.

About 1/3rd of the way back, I stopped at a Five Guys for an early-ish dinner. I lucked out, too, because I managed to dodge a random rain shower that hit while I was eating.

Go me.

As I was heading back along M street through Georgetown, a paper store caught my eye. The had a good selection of Japanese paper with some really nice floral prints that I know my sister will love. I got her some at Ito-ya in Ginza last year for Christmas as well, and I’m sure she’ll like these as well.

Then I went back to the hotel.

Random Stuff

I packed croutons and salad dressing, but I forgot the lettuce! I think I’ll pass on the crouton salad.

Now that the exam is over, I’m all relaxed. And now that I don’t have to study in particular (at least for tonight), I’m really bored. I’ll probably go to bed early so I can get home quickly.

I heard from my friend Michael, and he’s in town for a few days, so I’ll meet up with him tomorrow night. Gotta hit the road first thing in the morning!

DC and the JLPT (Day One)

 Japanese Language, Travel  Comments Off on DC and the JLPT (Day One)
Dec 012012

I drove up to DC today, and got settled the night before the JLPT tomorrow. I’m going to attempt the N1 exam again, although I’m not going to bet on my chances. I know I need to work on my Japanese some more. My vocabulary just isn’t quite there yet. It’s perfectly fine for everyday stuff, it’s not there for N1 yet.

The drive up was pretty uneventful. I listened to a bunch of podcasts in Japanese in the hopes of improving my listening for the exam. I’m getting better in that regard.

I used not to be able to understand “Tokyo Local” at all, because Manabe-san just talks way too fast for me to keep up, but now I’m finding myself keeping up with about 80% of what’s going on, and that’s not too bad.

“Tokyo Local” was a really interesting podcast, but it got cancelled. The first few seasons were really fun to listen to, then it turned into kind of a cosmetics show and I don’t know why. Also, once it got cancelled, the archive just disappeared.

It’s a good change of pace for me from all the news that I usually listen to.

I’m staying at the Embassy Suites in DuPont Circle here in DC. It’s a nice hotel, but they like the extra charges. $40/day for parking (ouch!), and $12.95/night for internet (oogah!). So I’m going without Intenet this weekend. I can’t go without parking, so I have to cut back somewhere.

(How is this being published then? Magic!)

N is for Nagoya and N is for N1

 Japan, Japanese Language, Travel  Comments Off on N is for Nagoya and N is for N1
Dec 042011

The N1 test was today, at the Aichi Gakuin University, Nisshin Campus. I checked with Hyperdia, and it was going to take 80 minutes just to get to Fujigaoka station, which was still 15-20 minutes away from the campus.

I left around 10 a.m., and caught the 10:30 train to Nagoya. I got to the station, then changed over to the Higashiyama subway line at 11:05 and caught the train to Fujigaoka.

When I got to the station, I started looking for the buses to the university, but I couldn’t find them. All I could find were buses to a place called “Fruits Park.”

I have no idea what a “Fruits Park” is. Maybe someday I’ll go visit all of the fruits there.

I flagged a cab. And as soon as we started moving, we were stuck behind… yes, a bus headed to the university.


2,000 yen later, we got there. The traffic was awful.

I got to the campus, and started hiking. It has a lot of open space. I got to the first building I could find that looked right, but it was the wrong building. The next building was the right guess. (Also, there were signs at that point.)

The construction of these buildings is just weird. All of the halls are exposed to the elements, like a motel or an apartment building. So the lecture halls were all like apartments for people with really bad taste in furniture. (Or who had lecture hall mania?)

The room we were in started off being really hot, and then got to be really cold.

The exam itself was a bear, but that’s what I was expecting. And like a bear, it tore me to bits.

Honestly, it felt like I had walked in on some other language’s test. I don’t know what that was supposed to be, but it wasn’t like any Japanese I knew. It was almost, but not quite Japanese.

I saw one of my N1 grammar classmates there, and we waved to each other, the same way fellow prisoners wave to each other, I think.

JBPP came in really handy. I nailed the business questions. At least there were a few of those.

Listening was more hide-the-football, only harder. No surprises there.

Well, there’s next year.

The worst part was the seats. They were built about 40-50 years ago for people who were, on average, a full foot shorter than me. My knees were screaming by the halfway point. Some kind soul had added a shelf below the desk, further upping the pain level.

I couldn’t wait for the test to end, and because it’s the JLPT, we can’t leave early for any reason.

After the exam was over, all 5,000 of us piled out of the buildings and raced to the bus stop. This is where the organizers did a great job of planning. There was a fleet of municipal buses, waiting to whisk us away to the station.

I exercised my long, sore, tired legs to get ahead of the main body of the crowd, and got in the second bus. Why? Simple. If 5,000 people are all going to the same station, what do you think that’s going to be like? Yeah, I think so, too.

I got to the station, hopped on the Higashiyama line, and got off at Sakae to go get some books at Maruzen, which is quickly becoming my favorite book store. Since I’m still in Japan, I decided to stock up on books for the next N1 I take, so I can have the materials ready! I also got some books to keep polishing my business Japanese.

I also splurged on the latest issue of “Science for Adults” magazine, which always comes with some neat thing or another to put together. This month it comes with an electronics kit you can put together to build basic circuits. Fun.

After all of that testing and shopping, I headed back to JR Nagoya, went to Mokumoku again, then went home. I got back around 10 p.m. or so.

And it doesn’t let up after this, either. We have tests just about every day this week at Yamasa.

Candy Ensures Exam Success

 Japan, Japanese Language  Comments Off on Candy Ensures Exam Success
Nov 302011

We got tested to bits this morning. First there was a listening test, then a grammar test. The listening questions all came from either JLPT practice tests or old JLPT tests, to they were really tricky.

I don’t like JLPT listening questions, because they’re all “gotcha” games. I never have conversations like these with real people.

The conversation flows something like this: “Hey, have you seen the football?” “No, did your mother hide the football again?” “I don’t think so. Maybe I’ll go (unintelligible word) instead.”

And the answer always hinges on the (unintelligible word) bit.

The written part wasn’t too bad, since I studied for it, but my brain is pretty much empty at this point.

I also had to rewrite my sakubun test by the end of 5th period.

Good times.

Candy for Winning Spirit!

S sensei gave out KitKats in out last N2 class today, and explained why. In Japan, a lot of people are superstitious about things to do before tests, and KitKat bars are seen as lucky, because kitto katsu is how they interpret it, which means “definitely win.”

So eating a KitKat before a big test is like psyching up for it.

Also, tonkatsu or katsudon is also good winning food. Basically, anything with katsu in it. Katsu is the word that means “win.”

Stay away from losing or falling things, because when someone fails, they use a verb that really means “to fall.” So avoid anything with “fall” or “lose” in it. (And don’t fall down the stairs and lose your keys on the way to the test, or else you’re doomed!)

I forgot to mention that the omiyage went over well with everyone on Monday, especially the teachers.

Postcards From the JBPP Edge, How to Read Japanese Food Labels

 Food, Foreign Languages, Japan, Japanese Language, Photos  Comments Off on Postcards From the JBPP Edge, How to Read Japanese Food Labels
Nov 282011

Today was the final exam for my N1 grammar class. I think I did okay. Not great, but good enough. JBPP takes up a lot of time, as do my regular classes, and daily life eats up another chunk. I’m taking this more as an introduction to N1 level grammar, because I know that there’s still a lot I have to learn, so I’m not worrying too much about it right now.

We’re starting to do a lot of reviewing for the upcoming big tests in the main classes on Wednesday. Fun.

I’m a little tired after all the traveling this weekend, but it was fun, and I feel recharged.

In JBPP, we started working on how to mail letters. Snail mail is still important every now and then, so I have to know how to send letters properly. And it’s the sort of skill that transfers over to email as well.


Here are a few photos of the souvenirs I bought for everyone in Kyoto. I’m actually posting this from the future, but it fits with my “Kyoto Arc” here.

The cookie/wafer things came in two varieties:
Souvenirs from Kyoto

A fall leaf motif:
Kyoto Souvenir 1

Some kind of grass motif?
Kyoto Souvenir 2

Anyway, they were a big hit with everyone. People like getting stuff.

How to Read Nutritional Info on Japanese Food!

Since I’m just tacking stuff onto this post, I might as well tack this on, too. It’s a really important survival skill in Japan if you have any dietary needs. That skill is how to decipher those labels!

Let’s start with the nutrition info from my cheese slices:
Japanese Food Labels, and How to Read Them 1

So the 栄養 bit above the box is saying “Nutritional Information.” 1æžš means one slice, 18g 当たり means approx. 18 grams. (Well, it means exactly 18 grams, but realistically, it’s approximately.)

Now, let’s analyze the stuff in the box:

  • エネルギー this is “energy,” measured in calories. (They use the more accurate kcal, for kilocalorie, but we just call them calories in the US.)
  • たんぱく質 this is protein.
  • 脂質 this is fat.
  • 炭水化物 these are carbohydrates.
  • ナトリウム this is sodium.
  • カルシウム this is calcium.

The last bit, the 食塩相当量 bit, is just telling you the table salt equivalent of the sodium in the product. So each slice has roughly half a gram of salt in it.

Let’s apply this to convenience store food, because I eat a lot of it. (It’s probably bad for me!)

I bought some butajiru udon the other day. (It’s pork soup with udon noodles in it.)
Japanese Food Labels, and How to Read Them 2

Okay, the 11.11.23 bit is the “best by” date. 2011, November 23 is how you read it. The プラ bit means that the whole thing is recycled with the plastic trash.

Below that, you see 1600w and 500w? Those are cooking times depending on your microwave’s wattage. One minute and twenty seconds for a 1600 watt, and four minutes for a 500 watt. (Useful!)

Now, under that is the actual nutritional information.

  • 1食当たり we saw something similar before, but basically it means “one serving.”
  • 熱量 is our calories again, just using a different way to say it.
  • 蛋白質 is just another way to write たんぱく質, except they used kanji. It’s still protein!
  • 脂質 is back again. It’s still fat.
  • 炭水化物 is also back again, still carbohydrates.
  • Na refers to sodium by its periodic table name.

Everything else is the list of ingredients, and the address of the maker.

Hope this helps you figure out what’s on your plate!

Running to Nagoya Castle

 Japan, Japanese Language, Photography, Photos, Travel  Comments Off on Running to Nagoya Castle
Oct 212011

Before I get to the Nagoya Castle trip, an update about classes at Yamasa. My elective classes started a few days ago, and I think they’ll be useful in getting ready for the JLPT N1. I couldn’t get into the writing class, which was a bit of a letdown, but having two extra grammar classes will be a lot of work, anyway.

So, on to the topic at hand. Cherry trees, their blossoms, and why I wanted to go to Nagoya today.

Sakura, Sakura, Do I Know You?

I have never seen a Cherry tree in bloom up close and personal. That’s mostly because I have never been to Washington, D.C. in Spring, nor have I ever been to Japan in Spring.

I suppose I could find them around North Carolina, but to me, most flowering trees look the same. Having grown up in the South, I know of two important spring flowering trees/shrubs: Dogwoods and Azaleas. Really, that’s it. Wisteria, I suppose I can recognize, too, but not much more than that.

So please excuse me if I can’t tell the difference between a cherry and a pear tree in bloom. It hasn’t been in my cultural wheelhouse.

There are times when cherry trees get confused, and bloom out of season. Sometimes when it happens, it makes the news. (Well, it does in Japan.) I’ve seen it twice on the NHK News. Once when some trees in Tohoku bloomed in September, and everyone took it as a sign of hope after the Tsunami, and I saw it again on Monday, when they ran a story about a cherry tree blooming near Nagoya Castle in the park on the grounds.

Since I have never seen such a thing in person, I wanted to go and see it up close.

A Tree Blooms In Nagoya… Right?

Class ended early on Friday, and afterwards, I immediately high-tailed it back to the apartment, grabbed the big, heavy camera (the 60D), and raced to the train station. The castle closes at 5 p.m., but they stop letting people in at about 4 p.m. or so. I got on the 3:00 train, which meant I was really under the gun to get there in time. I got to JR Nagoya at 3:30, then had to run to the subway, change trains, then run to the castle. I got there right at 3:50.


I did the castle tour, because I might as well. The Google reviews on Nagoya Castle are mixed, and for good reason. It’s kind of… plain, to be honest.

Going in:

Nagoya Castle Entry

An outbuilding near the main gate:

Nagoya Castle Outer Building

I saw some deer and crows chillin’ in the dry moat as I crossed to the main gate:

Deer and Crows

And here’s the castle, with attendant souvenir shop. (The building that says おみやげ on it.)

Nagoya Castle Main Building

The good thing about Osaka Castle is that when you get to the top, there’s an outdoor viewing area.

No such luck in Nagoya.

The top floor is enclosed, the windows are tiny, and they were very, very dirty. To top it off, the scenery wasn’t much to look at, either. It was kind of a disappointment.

Instead of crying over getting lemons, I decided to try to make lemonade. So I used the vantage point of the top of the castle to try to find the out-of-season cherry tree, but I didn’t have any luck.

There is a very large park with a lot of trees on the grounds of Nagoya Castle, and I suppose that that area is really pretty in Sping and Summer, so that’s probably worth checking out. It’s fall now, but there are no fall colors yet, so it’s kind of plain.

As I wandered around, I kept looking for the tree.

Here’s the back of the castle from outside the walls:

Nagoya Castle from Behind

And this canal looked kind of cool. Lightroom helped pick out some details:


Another shot of the castle from behind:

Nagoya Castle from Behind

One More:

Nagoya Castle from Behind

A few shots from the top of the castle walls, overlooking the lake:

View from the Castle Walls

View from the Castle Walls

The Name of this Song is “Please Leave. Now.”

I walked all over the castle grounds, and just didn’t have any luck. Finally, I started to hear music, which could only mean one thing in Japan: “Get out.”

I asked a security guard or two if they had seen a blooming tree, and they told me to come back in March. Translation: “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”

On the way out, I stopped and took a look at some of the Chrysanthemums being prepared for the big exhibition tomorrow. They looked nice, but I didn’t feel like taking any pictures.

Right by the exit, I saw the mascot character. Of course I took a picture:

Ebisubeth... the Nagoya Castle Mascot

After that, I was starving, so I set out to get some food.

The first order of business was to find a post office ATM. Thanks to Google Maps, I found one about a kilometer away. Then it was back to the subway, and off to Nagoya Station.

OMG Noodles

I finally got back to the station, and headed up to the 11th floor, where there were a ton of people (because it’s Friday), and a ton of restaurants to choose from. Picking just one restaurant was difficult, because each one had so many delicious things to try.

I wandered around for about 15-20 minutes before settling on a soba shop. I had one of my favorite dishes, zaru soba, which is chilled soba noodles with a dipping sauce. You get a little pot of hot water to pour over the noodles to get them to unstick from each other, but I made the mistake of pouring too much hot water over it and made a mess. That’s one of the joys of travel: learning new ways to embarass yourself and generally make a mess of things.

But it was all good. The noodles went great with a beer.

Revived, I headed back to Okazaki.

The Daily AIJP/JBPP Life

 Foreign Languages, Japan, Japanese Language, Travel  Comments Off on The Daily AIJP/JBPP Life
Oct 132011

The way classes are taught here is interesting. It reminds me a bit of high school, but it’s much more thorough.

We have 3 50-minute periods of class in the mornings, from 9-9:50, 10-10:50, and 11-11:50. Then from 11:50-12:40, we have lunch. After that, from 12:40-1:30 we have the last AIJP class of the day. That’s followed by a 1:40-2:30 and 2:40-3:30 block each day for electives.

Oh yeah, we have to pick electives NOW. It’s more of a big deal for me because I missed a few days.

I’m probably going to go with only two, although I can do up to four. JBPP will fill in that last 2:40-3:30 block every day… except when it doesn’t. Sometimes we’re going to have long classes that go from 5th through 6th period, and sometimes we’ll have class during 5th period only, but that’s usually on Fridays.

It’s a little confusing.

Anyway, picking electives isn’t too hard. Because of JBPP I only have a few choices. There’s a writing class I want to try, as well as the N1 and N2 grammar classes. N2 will be good review of stuff I should already know, and N1 will hopefully cover stuff I desperately need to know. The main downside is that they only meet once a week up until the JLPT, then they end.

We’ll see where I wind up!

The way classes are done here in general is intense. We start off just about every class with a quiz, except JBPP. The first class in the day is usually taught by my homeroom teacher, M-sensei (different from the M-sensei in JBPP), who is amazingly nice. She teaches two blocks or so, which is grammar and vocabulary, then in the third block (usually, not always, the schedule changes every week, or so I’m told), another teacher will come in to teach stuff like speaking or reading or writing. Then after lunch, it’s either M-sensei or another mystery block of somethingoranother.

The class is impressively diverse. America, Germany, Greece, Singapore, China, Taiwan, Brazil, and India are all represented. I’m probably forgetting someone. I apologize.

But Japanese is our common language. It’s easier that way.

The cold is almost gone. I still feel a bit lousy, but it’s not nearly as bad.

JBPP: Can I Has Meishi Koukan PLZKTHX!

One of the most important things in Japanese business is 名刺交換 (めいしこうかん, meishi koukan, or business card exchanging). It’s so important that it’s one of the first things we’re learning here. There’s an order to who offers their card first, and to whom, how it’s held out, how it’s received, what you say, and most importantly, where you put it.

The trick to understanding the whole thing from the Japanese side is understanding that business card = person. Once you understand that, many of the rules that seem kind of exacting make sense.

Also, understand that while visitors are treated as socially superior in a non-business setting, they’re not necessarily so in a business sense. If you’re coming to another company to ask for something, you need to show some humility, I guess. This is different from going into a store as a customer, because customers = gods in Japan. (Who else is going to spend money in their stores?)

Also, there’s the senior/junior dynamic as well. Seniority rules. Even if the boss isn’t going to do anything, if the boss is there, then the boss has to lead the ceremonies because s/he’s the boss.

The Basics

Ok, so the basics of meishi koukan are:

First, the order of who offers cards. (For this example, we’ll use a group of people visiting a company.)

  1. Visiting company goes first. (You’re introducing yourselves, after all!)
  2. Seniors first– company seniors, that is. So the most-senior visitor goes first, followed down the ranks to the most junior.
  3. “Home” company goes last.
  4. Again, the highest-level manager goes first.

Okay, that’s not too hard to remember.

So how do you do it?

  1. Offer your card out with both hands, facing upside down to you. (So the other party can read it!) Don’t forget to bow as you’re holding it out.
  2. Introduce yourself as you’re holding out your card, saying what company you’re from, who you are + douzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu, or the proper polite variant.
  3. The receiving person receives the card with both hands while bowing as well.
  4. The receiving person takes the card and says arigatou gozaimasu or whatever variant is required due to politeness level required.
  5. Receiving person has to look at the card and study it for a few seconds. Really, take the chance to learn the other person’s name, or ask them about the kanji in their name, etc. Great icebreaker.

Wait, there’s more! Remember, I said that a business card is considered the same as the person you’re dealing with, so a few “don’t”s are in order:

  • Don’t put it in your pocket! (Especially your back pocket!)
  • Don’t use it as a tool! (Especially to pick your teeth!)
  • Don’t write on it!

So we have these precious business cards… uh… what do we do with them?

Okay, now what? Where do we put the cards? The answer depends.

If it’s just meeting on the street, or at a convention, and there’s no meeting afterwards, then put them in a business card case. (You can get one for cheap at an office supply store if you need one.) You’re showing the other party how you value their card, and them at the same time.

If you don’t have your case on you, put it in your wallet. Don’t just shove it in a pocket.

It there’s a meeting afterwards, then lay them out on the table in front of you, like a little seating chart. It’s really useful that way, so you can keep everyone’s names straight. It also shows that you’re trying to learn their names. It’s very courteous to do it that way.

Anyway, you get the drift.

In the US, we use business cards like disposable ads. They’re tossed all over the place, and are only used to keep track of contact info. We write on them, pick our teeth with them, sit on them, you name it. We only see it as a piece of paper that’s handy to have every now and then… but not much more than that. (Hence the numerous goldfish bowls used to hold business cards for raffles.)

We spent a lot of time in class practicing business card exchanges, with a variety of scenarios. It was challenging at first, but I got used to it.

Still, there’s a lot of cultural stuff for me to learn just surrounding business, and we’re only at the point of exchanging business cards. I can see that I have my work cut out for me!

Tonkatsu, Point Cards, and Burning Eyes

 Food, Japan, Travel  Comments Off on Tonkatsu, Point Cards, and Burning Eyes
Sep 272011

This was my first full day in Tokyo. I started with the hotel buffet for breakfast. 1,200 yen for all you can eat, either Western or Japanese style.

Some of the Western stuff is a little odd, but it’s good enough for me. Plenty of yogurt, and a decent strawberry sauce. Other stuff was available, of course: poached eggs, “baking bread,” whatever that is, Japanese-style bacon and sausages that don’t taste like either bacon or sausages, and some good croissants and OJ.

The most important points here are that: I didn’t have to make it, and it was right there in the hotel, so I didn’t have to find a place to eat breakfast.

It’s the most important meal of the day, you know.

Point Cards

Belly filled, I headed off to Kinokuniya in Shinjuku to get my JLPT application. It wasn’t too difficult. Just ask at one of the desks and you can get an application.

I also picked up a Kinokuniya point card.

That’s one thing you should definitely do while in Japan– pick up point cards whenever you get a chance. They’re very handy. You get points for every purchase, and then you can cash them in like money. A lot of times, though, they expire at the end of the month, so be careful. Better to use them as soon as you can, especially if you’re just on a short-term visit.

You may need an address and phone number for the point card. If you decide to specify one, well, I leave that up to you.


Application in hand, I headed off to Ginza to do some shopping. First I stopped off at Itoya, which is my favorite stationery store. It’s 8-9 stories full of interesting stuff to buy.

If they don’t have it, you don’t need it.

I was looking for the a calendar similar to the kind I picked up 4 years ago, which is a standard yearly calendar on nice paper with a traditional Japanese woodblock print on it. But after combing through the store and the annex, I had no luck. I spent an hour wandering around, because Itoya is a great place to just wander around and look.

I managed to find double-sided sticky tape. I’ll need that for my JLPT application. (To attach the photo.)

It was soon time for lunch.


In the US, I usually watch a show called “Tokyo Eye” that comes on TV-Japan on Saturdays, and they did a show on a Ginza eatery called Rengatei, which is famous for being either one of the first, or the first place to serve tonkatsu in Japan. (Sorry, I can’t remember which.) It’s been in business since the 1890s, if I remember correctly. I’ve been dying to try their tonkatsu, and thanks to remembering to star the place on Google Maps, today was my chance.

Their tonkatsu comes with a pile of thinly sliced cabbage, and I ordered some rice and lemonade to go with it. The sauce they have is a bit thinner than the usual tonkatsu sauce. I poured it on the side, and dipped the katsu in it, as well as the cabbage.

It was a great tonkatsu. I’ve never had anything that light and crispy. The regular is 1,300 yen, and the large is 2,000 yen.

And it’s worth it.


After that, I went to Kyukyodo, because I still hadn’t managed to find those calendars. Kyukyodo is a very nice stationery store, but it can get pretty expensive. The 3rd floor still has a nice gallery full of calligraphic art. This time there was a display of calligraphy carved into wood. There were some really interesting pieces there. I spent some time talking to the dotients in my broken Japanese.

On the second floor, they had some nice seal carving knives, and some great-looking calligraphy books, but nobody was interested in helping me, and I wasn’t interested in carrying them all over Japan, so I decided it was probably for the best.

I’ll get that stuff in Nagoya.

Marunouchi & Maruzen

I got on the subway and rode to Tokyo Station to go to Maruzen. Maruzen’s always a pain in the butt for me to find. I spent a good 10-15 minutes lost around there looking for it. I did the same thing four years ago, too.

Google Maps wasn’t much help, because once I was underground, there was no GPS signal, and one building is a lot like another. I did find it eventually. I didn’t buy anything, though. Again, the issue was the whole “Carrying books all over Japan” thing.

I inquired about the BJT, or Business Japanese Test, because I was thinking about taking it as a backup to the JLPT, but nobody there had ever heard of it, and didn’t know where to get the forms.

I suppose I can ask at Yamasa when I get there.

After that, I headed back, since my eyes were starting to hurt, and it was getting late.

As the evening went on, my eyes were really starting to hurt. I stopped by the drug store kiosk in JR Shinjuku and bought some Visine, and tried it when I got home.

Eyes On Fire

Using Visine was a big mistake. It made my eyes burn even worse.

My eyes have been hurting ever since I got off the plane, and they’ve only been getting worse. So I decided to use Skype to call my insurance company’s overseas “OMGHELP” number. They were very helpful. They told me to go to any doctor I wanted to, and they would pay the claim when I got back, so long as I filed the right paperwork, and I had a year to file the claim.


They even told me the papers to get from the doctor, and not to worry if the papers were all in Japanese.

If you’re ever in that kind of a bind, make sure you get the paperwork taken care of.

I spent a couple of hours trying to find one of the “recommended doctors” on their website, but it was kind of a pain in the butt. I never found any of them in Google Maps. I’ll probably just ask at the front desk in the morning.

JLPT Pass!

 Japanese Language  Comments Off on JLPT Pass!
Sep 232011

As part of my trip to Japan to study at Okazaki, an important part of my plan is to take either the N2 again (if I failed it) or N1 (if I passed it.) The deadline to apply is 9/30/11, and by 9/16, I still didn’t have my results from London. I guess going over the Atlantic slowed things down.

So I sent an email to the folks at SOAS in London, and I got my results by email today, because I have a rather unique situation. Thanks to the folks at SOAS for making a special exception. I really needed the info. Anyway:

N2 pass GET!

That’s one less thing to worry about. Now I can concentrate on learning the language, and not stress over the test so much. (Because I have no chance of passing N1 right now.)

Still, much rejoicing on my part. I hope my scores and certificate show up before I leave!

Goes off into a corner and dances some more.


JLPTeed Off

 Great Britain, Japanese Language, Travel  Comments Off on JLPTeed Off
Jul 032011

Well, today was the big test. The one I traveled 3,940 miles and paid a few thousand dollars for. I honestly don’t think I did any better than I did when I took it in December.

So very frustrating.

I know my Japanese is better. I know I can speak better, and listen better, and even read better. But that test is like a game show designed to prove to contestants that “You don’t know Jack about Japanese.”

At least that’s what it felt like.

Oh, but before that, there was needless lining up outside, and waiting while each person’s ID was checked before we could even enter the building.

Then we were sent on to the appropriate testing room.

Why not just open up the building and check IDs in the rooms? I thought Americans were paranoid. They have nothing on our British cousins.

So of course the test started late. The line outside the building was huge, and moved really slowly, and as a result, people were panicked when they finally got to the room, through no fault of their own.

As for the test itself, it was awful.

The JLPT is a bad test to begin with, and now they’ve just gone and made it worse.

The grammar and reading section is horrible. You get 105 minutes, which is never enough, to do 55 grammar problems which start from easy and rapidly go to “Huh?”

Then with whatever time is left, you have to finish 20 reading questions, which is almost always impossible, unless you are the Japanese Evelyn Wood, in which case, why are you even bothering with this test? You don’t need this.

I spent a lot of time before the test working on my reading, and I never could get to the speed they want for this thing. I just can’t do it. My reading speed isn’t terrible, it’s just not at the level where I can read an editorial in 3 minutes, then answer 4 questions in another minute.

My Plan to Nail the Reading Section… or at Least Finish It in Time

My strategy was to jump straight to the reading section, and use whatever time was left on the grammar section… sort of. I skipped all of the single-question reading problems, and went straight to the one passage, 3-question problems, to maximize my chances of passing the section.

But I don’t know if it worked.

While I could understand the passages, for some reason, the words just bounced off of my brain and would not compute. And the questions just didn’t not make any sense at all. It was bad. I managed to limp through the section and finish it, but I’m not excited.

I breezed through the grammar section. It didn’t seem as bad as last time, except for the ★ problems, which this time seemed to be particularly nasty. The compound grammar problems were mean as usual. It’s hard to prepare for them, because nobody can put out a good book full of practice problems for some reason.

The compound grammar problems have answers that combine two grammar points in each answer like A&B, A&C, D&B and D&C. Pick one. Go on, hurry up. Time’s a-wastin’!

I’ve spent countless hours in my car and in my house, listening to all kinds of stuff in Japanese, and when it came to the listening section of the exam, they had managed to find two fast-talkers to play the game of “Hide the Football.”

Here’s how it works. Get the guy who always reads the fine print at the end of a radio commercial, then get the lady who also does it. Now get them to have a conversation about what they’re going to do about something. Something really vague. Now have them dither about what they’re going to do first. Are they going to walk the dog? Water the plants? Feed the bird? Or set the house on fire? Hmm… what should we do… Hey, let’s go eat pasta, then feed the bird to the dog, and set the house plants on fire! Wait, that’s not an answer, dammit!

Now give us, the test taker, about 15 seconds to figure out what one of them is going to do next. Hurry up! No, you can’t hear it again, even if in reality, when you can’t catch what someone just said, you simply ask them to repeat it, but not in JLPT-land. Nope.

Words may only be uttered once in JLPT-land! You may not ask someone to repeat what they just said, even if it’s common sense to do so, and happens a number of times every day!

For the most part, the listening section was easy… or so I think. But the way the test is designed, I’m almost positive that I didn’t score as highly as I think I did. There are 5 “problems,” each with a number of questions attached.

The hide the football questions make up one problem. Another problem is the “rapid response” section, where in 11 questions, you’ll hear someone say something, then you get 3 choices. Quick, pick the best one! You only hear them once, so hurry up!

The last problem is usually a massively long question, and it usually turns on something you hear briefly in the very beginning, and if you miss it, you are royally screwed, because it all hinges on that first bit. Might as well just fill in 4 random dots.

There’s a set up of some sort of system, like “The pet shop has 4 dogs for sale: one is big and hairy, one smells, one is little and shakes, and one sleeps all day.” Then two people will talk about how much they love coffee, and hey, if you got a dog, which one would you get? “I want a pink one.” “Really? I want an orange one.” Now, which of the 4 dogs for sale would person A buy? Which would person B buy?

Something like that.

The added sucky bit is that we don’t get results until mid-September, which is really too late to do anything about the December test, unless I take it somewhere not in the U.S., because of the time it will take for the results to get to me from the UK…

I’ll think of something. Who knows? Maybe I passed… yeah, I’m not going to go there.

I have to seriously think about my study approach. My environment is only carrying me so far, it seems, regardless of the stupidity of the test, if I was better at the language, I wouldn’t be kvetching about it.

Updates on Learning Japanese, Word Lists, and iPhone stuff

 Japanese Language, Technology  Comments Off on Updates on Learning Japanese, Word Lists, and iPhone stuff
Feb 012010

Things have been hectic.

I decided to start taking JLPT exam prep classes offered at the NC Japan Center, and I find that that has been helping me to focus on acquiring new vocabulary and grammar. For some reason or another, I had gotten a bit bogged down doing the self-study thing. Maybe it’s just a matter of having too many books and too many distractions.

A class is good because it focuses me on doing just one thing at a time, rather than scattering my efforts all over the place.

The other good thing about the class is that I have access to a native Japanese speaker once a week for two hours, and I can share my toils with 3 other kindred spirits who are at roughly the same level, ability-wise. (And of course I have discovered where my Japanese language abilities lack. No surprises there, really.)

I prefer taking a class with adults over a class full of college students. No offense to college students, but adults are, well, adults. We’ve all been “out there” and “seen stuff,” so it makes it easier to socialize. Sitting in on college classes always felt kind of weird because of the age/experience gap.

Intermediate Kanji Book

Book-wise, we’re using “Intermediate Kanji Book, Volume 1” by Bonjinsha. It’s a good book for working on vocab, because it’s full of vocab exercises. Like any book, it’s only useful if you use it thoroughly. We’re using it pretty thoroughly. The only downside is that the book is kind of expensive. My copy was around $50 at the Japan Shop.

As the title implies, it comes after “Basic Kanji Book,” volumes 1 and 2, respectively.  The first two volumes will net you around 500 or so kanji, and this volume promises another 250 or so. There’s a volume 2 with another 250 in it as well, which will get you to the magic number of 1,000 for the level 2 JLPT.

Or you could just do Kanji Odyssey books 1 and 2, and that will net you 1,110. But I never did get started on book 2, because things got too hectic. I’ll probably snag some material from it as I go through IKB1, though.

Word Lists

I’ve been putting my earlier entry on word lists to use for the early reps of grinding the new vocab. I created a Photoshop graphic page that divides a 11″ x 8.5″ (so it’s landscape, not portrait) sheet of paper into six columns. Then I just print or photocopy the “master” page to make a bunch of study sheets.

I use the 5 lines as guides to fold the paper, so I can hide columns I don’t want to see, making it easier to study. Then I just study from Kanji with kana underneath it -> English -> Kanji + Kana -> English, and back and forth until one side is full. If I’m still feeling insecure, I fold over one side, use it as a prompt for the far right side of the back, and keep going until I feel comfortable. I decided to just put the kana under the kanji to save time and space, rather than mess with adding a separate step for kana. Really, if I need to know one, I need to know the other, so I might as well knock both out at the same time.

Otherwise, my rules are simple:

  • Put a few hours in between repetitions.
  • Don’t fill the column until you can get everything right. So that means test it, see if you got it right. If you didn’t, then set it aside for 20 minutes, then test it again. I can test other stuff in the meantime. This way, I can get multiple short lists of 5-7 vocab words going, and juggle them.

I’ve started cutting the pages down the middle lengthwise to save paper, too. So I can take one sheet of paper, and create two long, short, six-column study aids. I can fit 7-10 words on each one.

Once I feel comfortable, I use the list as a guide to grab sentences from online sources like dictionaries and dump them into Anki for long-term retention (and context.)

Kanzen Master

The class also uses the Kanzen Master level 2 grammar book, which is very good, but also kind of tricky, because it’s all in Japanese. In my case, I have to go to my reference books a bit to figure out what some of the entries mean, because the explanations are a bit terse.

We’re going to plow our way through it at our own pace. In the meantime, I’m picking up the level 3 grammar book to help me review all of the things I’ve probably forgotten by now. I love the Kanzen Master series for its thoroughness… 3-A makes great books in general.

iPhone Stuff

Just a few random things. Japanese by CodefromTokyo is on sale at the iTunes App Store until 2/3. 20% off, so it’s $16 instead of $20. It’s a good app that does a lot of things. My only beef is that it uses EDICT, which is free (as in Free Beer), and it wasn’t written by professionals. (Well, at least not professional lexicographers.)

You can get EDICT for free if you download Kotoba, and that’s free. Japanese does have a lot of other useful functions, though, like stroke order diagrams for most (not all) kanji, JLPT word lists, a simple flashcard program and other things that enhance the experience, but dictionary-wise, I’m not a huge fan of EDICT, and I already have Anki for flashcards.

So if you already have a robust study framework with Anki and better dictionaries, I’m not too sure where this program fits in yet. I’ll keep poking at it to see what other tricks it can do. I’d say it’s good for beginners to maybe lower intermediates, perhaps?

I prefer my 研究社 dictionary for the iPhone (even though it runs ~$30) as a Japanese-English, English-Japanese dictionary, simply because it was written by professionals. It doesn’t have some of the features of Japanese, but the new version is pretty strong for just a dictionary.

Same goes for 大辞林, which is an excellent 国語 dictionary. (That’s a Japanese dictionary which is all in Japanese.) The 大辞林 app even has a 四字熟語 dictionary section in it now. Cool stuff. It also runs in the $20-$30 range.

Syncing Backwards

Finally, I managed to solve a long-time vexing problem with my iPhone. At some point, my iPhone started telling me that I couldn’t sync my applications anymore. It wanted to overwrite the applications it had with the ones on my iPhone. That would not do, so I stopped syncing my apps.

Naturally, this made me a ball of nerves, because I was walking around with a bunch of $30 dictionaries in my pocket, worried that they’d get accidentally zorched. And I never could seem to find a way to make iTunes sync with my stupid iPhone and rescue all of my expensive apps that I had downloaded straight to the phone.

Until I found this link to an article about transferring apps from your iPhone to iTunes. All I had to do was right click? Seriously? That’s it? Gah! I thought Apple didn’t believe in the RMB.

I’m starting to lust openly at the Android phones now. I’m getting tired of the Byzantine OS that is all things iPhone and iTunes.

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